"Please," he pleaded.
She did not have the courage to look up. She knew that if she did she would see intense pain reflected in his dark eyes as she had for the past few months. His cheeks had become sallow and gaunt. The laugh lines around his mouth no longer deepened. New lines had formed from his grimaces.
"It hurts so much," he rasped. His bony hand reached out to cover hers. He looked at her bowed head, at the silver strands that graced the dark hair. A single tear splashed on the back of his hand.
When she finally looked up, her eyes were wet and her nose was pink. Something in him twisted at the sight of those tears. He always hated to make her cry.
"How can you ask that of me," she whispered, forcing air through the lump in her throat.
His other hand came up to cradle her cheek. She closed her eyes, letting the tears slide down. She held his hand to her cheek, turning into his palm and pressing against it. His fingers gently stroked the soft face.
"You of all people should know that there's nothing to be done," he said softly. "It's only a matter of time."
"But we've been given so little! There wasn't enough time!" she wailed, her fist clenching.
"We've been blessed," he insisted. "We've been given what most people could not find in a lifetime"
She rested her head on his chest, sobbing. She clenched his shirt. He closed his arms around her and murmured words of comfort. He rocked her like a child. He pressed his nose against her head, his brows knitted as anguish squeezed his chest, a keener pain than any physical ones he had felt before. He knew that she is all the reason he needed for staying alive.
But he did not want her memory of him to be tarnished. He did not want to be a shriveled figure incapable of controlling his own body. He did not want machines to breathe for him or feed him through a tube.
She deserved better.
"I want you to remember me before the cancer," he said, his own tears coursing down his face. "I want you to remember a time when I was strong enough to catch you in my arms and spin you around, to make love to you, to support you."
His voice grew soft, "I want you to remember the man you fell in love with, not this pathetic excuse of a human being."
"No! You're not that," she protested. "I love you! I love you now!"
"I know," he said. He closed his eyes.
She took him to the beach the next day. He wanted to go, despite his illness. She shut the engine off, and the two of them sat silently in the car as they watched the sea from the parking lot. They could barely hear the roar of the waves as they crashed mercilessly into obtruding rocks. Pelicans rearranged themselves from a line to a "V", dipping close to the choppy waters. Fall had come early this year, the beach growing too cold for teenagers and families to enjoy. They had the beach to themselves. The shifting clouds obstructed the sun and the wind whistled as it blew over their car.
"Let's go for a walk," he suggested.
She helped him out of the car. She wrapping him tightly in a jacket and a blanket, and was about to put on more when he joked that he was going to the beach, not getting a body wrap in some salon. She smiled, then shrugged. They walked barefoot on the beach, following the line dividing wet and dry sand. Occasionally a strong wave or two would swallow their feet, causing them to sink into the sucking sand. When he grew tired, she laid a blanket down for the two of them to sit on. His arm draped naturally over her shoulder.
"I remember you took me here on our first date," she said softly. "We watched our first sunset together. It was cold, and we only had a towel to share between us. Your legs stuck out from the blanket, though you would never admit that you were cold. Before the first star appeared in the sky, you stole a kiss from me."
He raised an eyebrow. "Do you regret its loss then?"
"No. I knew it would happen when I left that morning," she laughed.
"I suppose you told your father your speculation," he sighed dramatically. "No wonder he was staring daggers at me when I came to pick you up."
"Poisonous daggers," he added thoughtfully.
She playfully slapped his arm. He held her close. At that moment, they needed nothing more.
They snuggled close to each other under the numerous blankets they had brought. Their first experience taught them that. Her hand traced patterns on his back, underneath his layers of clothing. He murmured appreciatively. That had always soothed him when he felt anxious.
"Love," she said. "I... I have the drug."